June 9, 2012

"Unconventional" Is An Apt Ajective

As I alluded to in yesterday's news roundup, Isaiah Berg '11 has some intriguing ideas on reforming the College's Greek system. Mr. Berg calls his prescriptions "unconventional" but I call them strange. Just downright bizarre.

(Consequently, Mr. Asch seemed to agree -- and in an interesting editorial move, decided to argue against his blogging partner in a rejoinder post.)

I will declare at the outset: I do not intend to asperse Mr. Berg. In fact, I genuinely respect him and his views. He is a high caliber intellectual -- and did I mention he biked from Alaska to Argentina? Seriously, check it out at Bound South.

But the reforms he proffers would do nothing to curb binge drinking in fraternity houses -- and may make it worse. Let's just review his points one-by-one:

1. Replace beer cans with beer kegs. Yes, Mr. Berg is right that reducing can consumption benefits the environment. As far as reducing binge drinking, however, the suggestion has little to offer. Per ounce, keg beer is cheaper than canned; frat brothers would find it equally easy to disperse; and the money saved from purchasing cans could go toward various methods of cooling the beer. (And let's be honest, most Keystone consumed during pong isn't particularly cold anyway.)

2. Cultivate beer connoisseurship. In other words, force fraternities to serve expensive beers. Setting students' "thankful" palates aside, the policy would not work. First, how exactly would the policy be structured? Would it mandate a minimum cost to kegs served? Would it only condone certain brands? Even ironing out those wrinkles, enforcement remains a problem. Fraternity brothers and the beer purveyors supplying their hooch would find workarounds, and at the very least, fraternities would just sequester the cheap beer until clear of S&S officers.

Second, let's allow Mr. Berg's assumption that fraternities only serve classier libations. As the author himself points out, these drinks contain about twice as much alcohol by volume as Keystone Light. Would fraternities serve them more slowly, given their higher cost? Perhaps. But when they don't, the results could be even higher blood alcohol contents than before. 

3. Make fraternities compete for cash prizes. Okay... I suppose building community through College-wide competitions is nice, and it might even produce interesting new ideas toward solving campus problems. But Dartmouth is infamous for the work-hard-party-harder attitude. Even directly providing incentives to reducing alcohol consumption would likely fail. Money in fraternities exists, in large part, to support social functions. Give the fraternities more money and you'll provide them more resources to, surreptitiously if necessary, host ragers. 

4. Host more panels in fraternities. Unless you're hosting these events every Wednesday through Saturday from 10:00 PM to 2:00 AM, this idea won't cut out an ounce out of student beer consumption.

5. Get alumni involved. Perhaps the best of Mr. Berg's suggestion. If we assume that older alumni will have matures, and would exercise responsible mentorship roles, this could work. But of course, alumni aren't present at most Wednesday night meetings...

Generally speaking, Mr. Berg's ideas conflate two separate problems: binge drinking and fraternity culture. Reforming the Greek system requires the College to consider new social spaces and arenas for communal cohesion. Mr. Asch has some good ideas on this front, the best of which is returning housing continuity.

Reducing binge drinking is, if anything, more complicated. As a rather fervid libertarian, I'm surprised at Mr. Berg's willingness to add a spate of new bureaucratic policies. The rules already in place should, if followed, reduce binge drinking: not least of which is the law against underage consumption. The problem isn't the rules, it's the inability to enforce them. 

And of course, even if the new rules worked, students would seek out alcohol -- likely cheap, hard liquor -- elsewhere. 

That's not to say that these two problems aren't linked. Provide alcohol-free social spaces and you likely cut the rate at which students feel pressured to drink. Unfortunately, none of Mr. Berg's suggestions address that issue.

1 comment:

  1. Brice, I hope you're well, I just found this after seeing a link to my bicycle trip blog. Thank you for your criticisms.

    A few notes:

    1. "Reforms" do not necessarily come by fiat from the central administration. I apologize for the semantics. Many of these are necessarily grassroots, and my suggestions are intended to spark thought and debate. Binge drinking is a complex social-biological-cultural phenomenon at Dartmouth, and I'm not claiming to have any silver bullets on hand. Marginal improvement is still improvement, which is what I was going for in a limited writing space.

    2. I don't claim any solution to binge drinking in my post, nor do I claim to fix fraternity culture. #1 was about improving the environment and cleanliness of Dartmouth's fraternities, burnishing fraternity's public image at the very least. Consider the "broken windows theory" and how that might also apply to the typical basement being covered in bodily fluids and rotting Keystone cans. #2 was out-of-the-box, but I think if fraternities chose a "quality beer mandate" for their basements, they might be surprised at the results. Regarding #3, I don't deny that a fraternity's cash prize might go to paying for a party. But parties aren't the problem: sexual assault, binge drinking, and self-destructiveness are. The development of "real fraternity" that could accompany these competitions might make a real difference. #4 is about a culture change in College faculty and leadership; as long as they're terrified of stepping foot inside fraternities, fraternities will never be anything more than drinking clubs. As soon as the nature of the space is changed, future fraternity leaders will have a leg to stand on when they push to reform their houses. #5 is about alumni influence, and I can tell you from experience that the right alumni leaders can have a tremendous impact on a fraternity, even if they aren't attending Wednesday meetings or weekend parties.

    I encourage you to read my previous post on "Fraternal Nihilism" as I feel it to be a stronger piece of writing and more central to the problems faced by fraternities. http://www.dartblog.com/data/2012/06/010248.php

    And I will also add that my writing and Joe's follow-up were not in conflict; I am also heavily in favor of dorm continuity and the reforms he mentions. Unfortunately, every indication from the administration in my four years at Dartmouth has been that this is NOT a priority for them and won't be anytime soon. I fought hard for it throughout my time as an undergraduate, believe me. In the absence of administrative turnaround, what can we do to improve the system we have, rather than the one we wish we had? These are admittedly small, marginal improvements, but they're on the table for us right now.